Women's Work Conditions in Industrial Revolution (1760-1830)


  • A process of industrial capitalist development.
  • A new banking system - "private banking" in Britain, where the first industrial revolution happened.
  • Growing population
  • Agricultural revolution - mew crops, improvements in cultivation techniques and livestock breeding.
  • A stable environment - steady economic and agricultural systems.
  • Capitalism - Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand" that encourage industrialization and gaining money.

Before Industrial Revolution:

  • Less efficiency in cotton and lace production.
  • Women focus in some cotton and lace hand-made work that took place at home.
  • Women had less strength than men, so less job opportunities.
  • More men were in the agricultural field, since industry either did not exist or was not popular yet.
  • Few women rights and property.

↓ Before and early Industrial Revolution


Outcome (Change over time):

  • Men were starting to move to industrial jobs, what did some women do? They started to replace some men's job and work in the agricultural work.
  • Increase women's participation in labor outside the house.
  • Women were products of the industrial revolution, not so much because mechanization created jobs for her where none had existed before, but because she became a troubling and visible figure in the course of it.
  • Anomaly in a world where wage labor and family responsibilities had each become full-time and spatially distinct job.
  • Stressing differences between women and men.
  • Expansion of middle-class.
  • Middle-class women were consigned to caring for the home and children, while many working-class women had to earn their living in mines and factories.
  • Assuming the sameness of all women's experience, lead to bad working condition for working-class women.

↓ During and after Industrial Revolution
Women used the spinning jenny and water frame, but mule spinning was almost exclusively a male occupation because it required more strength, and because the male mule-spinners actively opposed the employment of female mule-spinners.

Working Condition:

  • Long working hour and low wages - A shilling was equal to 12 pence, so if women earned 2s.6d. for 20 hours, they earned 1.5d. per hour. Women agricultural laborers earned closer to 1d. per hour, so the London wage was higher. 3
  • Young unmarried women worked to support themselves or to save for marriage.
  • Married women took factory jobs when their husbands were unable to support the family.
  • Mothers of infants either leave their babies with wet nurses at great expense or bring them to the factory and keep them drugged. (lead to bad children condition)
  • Not all women accepted the change, Marry Wollstonecraft wrote the first feminist manifesto, Vindication of the Rights of Women, in 1792. (Shown in "Primary Source section".)
  • Wives of merchants had often participated in the family business
  • Widows occasionally managed sizable businesses on their own.

↓ Girl child labor

Great introduction of women condition in Industrial Revolution.

Occupation Variety:

  • Domestic working - cooking, cleaning, caring for children and the sick, fetching water, making and mending clothing - took up the bulk of women's time during the Industrial Revolution period.
  • Live-in servants - some of this work was unpaid.
  • Cottage and lace industry - wages for hand-spinning fell, and many rural women who had previously spun found themselves unemployed.
  • Agricultural wage workers - servants who were hired annually and day-laborers.
  • Self-employed - women were also active businesswomen in towns.
Women force in comparison to men
Occupational Category
Males (thousands)
Females (thousands)
Percent Female
Domestic Services (highest)
Armed Forces (lowest)
Total Occupied
Total Unoccupied
Source: B.R. Mitchell, Abstract of British Historical Statistics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962, p. 60.

Angelus-Millet-L.jpeg← A woman was meant to pull her weight on the farm by assisting in the farming duties and raising the children. The lot of these women was frequently no different to men.

Source: "Report from Dr. James Mitchell to the Central Board of Commissioners, respecting the Returns made from the Factories, and the Results obtained from them." British Parliamentary Papers, 1834 (167) XIX.
Source: "Report from Dr. James Mitchell to the Central Board of Commissioners, respecting the Returns made from the Factories, and the Results obtained from them." British Parliamentary Papers, 1834 (167) XIX.
The y-axis shows the percentage of total employment within each sex that is in that five-year age category.

Primary Source:

  • "I am working here, where I will continue, as long as ever I have any strength, or as long as I am permitted to do so. My whole life is bound with this Society. Every energy I possess belongs to it." 4
  • In 1893, Isabella Ford wrote a book called Women's Wages. The book includes a section on sexual harassment in factories.
    "A premium is sometimes put on impropriety of conduct on the women's part by the foreman. That is, a woman who will submit or respond to his course jokes and language and evil behaviour receives more work than the woman who feels and shows herself insulted by such conduct, and wishes to preserve her self respect. The pittance earned by some of these women is earned at the expense of more than only hard toil. Even when this coarseness is confined to language only, it causes deep suffering to some of the women. They feel, they know, that because they are women and therefore regarded as helpless and inferior, they are spoken to as men are not spoken to, and the sting enters their souls."
  • "In the present state of society it appears necessary to go back to first principles in search of the most simple truths, and to dispute with some prevailing prejudice every inch of ground. To clear my way, I must be allowed to ask some plain questions, and the answers will probably appear as unequivocal as the axioms on which reasoning is built; though, when entangled with various motives of action, they are formally contradicted, either by the words or conduct of men. In what does man's pre-eminence over the brute creation consist? The answer is as clear as that a half is less than the whole, in Reason." 10


  • Jules Simon, "a woman who becomes a worker is no longer a woman." 6
  • "Since large-scale industry has transferred the woman from the house to the labour market and the factory, and makes her, often enough, the bread-winner of the family, the last remnants of male domination in the proletarian home have lost all foundation - except, perhaps, for some of that brutality towards women which became firmly rooted with the establishment of monogamy. . . .It will then become evidence that the first premise for the emancipation of women is the reintroduction of the entire female sex into public industry." 2

←basic working condition, focus after 1:44.


  1. Carpenter, Mary Wilson. Health, Medicine, and Society in Victorian England. ABC-CLIO 1937. Santa Barbara, California.
  2. Engels, Frederick Engels. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Selected Works. New York: International Publishers. 1986. p. 508, 510.
  3. George, Dorothy. London Life in the Eighteenth-Century, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1925, p. 208, and Patricia Malcolmson, English Laundresses, Univ. of Illinois Press, 1986, p. 25.
  4. Maurice, C. Edmund. Life. p.64
  5. Boyd, Nancy. Three Victorian Women Who Changed Their World. Oxford University Press 1982. Oxford.
  6. Simon, Jules. L'Ouvriere, 2nd ed. (Paris: Hachette, 1861), p.v.
  7. "Women Workers in the British Industrial Revolution." February 5th, 2010. http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/burnette.women.workers.britain
  8. "The Industrial Revolution: Causes of the Industrial Revolution." Sea.ca. February 17th, 2003. http://industrialrevolution.sea.ca/causes.html
  9. "Women an Industrial Work." Spartacus Education. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wwork.htm
  10. Wollstonecraft, Mary. The Vindication of the Rights of Women. 1792. http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/wollstonecraft/woman-a.html#CHAPTER I